Alfalfa is an important herb used by people in the Middle East and has been a part of herbal medicine for almost 1,500 years. While it may look like a grass to some, it is actually a member of the pea family. Most of us in the U.S. connect alfalfa to its use as forage for horses and rabbits. With so many different facets to this unassuming little plant, it is not surprising that many experts consider alfalfa an excellent addition to your dog’s diet. But, despite all its nutrients and potential benefits, some disagree and say alfalfa carries more risks than benefits.
Alfalfa is Packed with Nutrition
Alfalfa is a nutrient-dense herb. It is high in protein, and is loaded with Vitamins A, B12, C, D, E, and K. Alfalfa contains a number of minerals including potassium, calcium, manganese, phosphorous, zinc, and magnesium. It is also very high in the antioxidant chlorophyll, and serves as a diuretic and an anti-inflammatory. Alfalfa is so high in some of these nutrients it makes it an ideal choice for many animals to use as both a food and supplement. Dogs, however, should only receive alfalfa as a supplement. It is a complete protein and lacks some of the amino acids dogs need to stay healthy.
Benefits of Alfalfa
The use of alfalfa in humans to treat arthritis spans centuries. In modern times, it has found its place in holistic medicine for both humans and pets. Veterinarians have found that supplementing with alfalfa provides significant relief for dogs with arthritis. Experts estimate that up to 20% of pets that suffer from arthritis benefit from the supplementation of alfalfa. Veterinarians recommend daily supplementation, which offers long-term pain relief.
Chinese medicine uses alfalfa as a treatment for digestive system and kidney problems. In dogs, it is good for the kidneys and works as a mild diuretic. Alfalfa has an alkalinizing effect that helps balance overly acidic urine, which can cause irritation and other urinary issues in dogs. It also has enzymes and trace minerals that are good for digestion and can help improve appetite and eliminate gas problems.
Holistic vets also recommended alfalfa as a treatment for dry skin. Alfalfa can help improve blood and circulation, which, in turn, can help skin problems. Finally, as an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, alfalfa is good for preventing cancer.
Use Alfalfa with Care
As a supplement, alfalfa is safe in small doses. However, many vets caution pet owners not to use alfalfa in larger amounts. Alfalfa has phytoestrogens which are endocrine disruptors. If your dog has endocrine issues, feeding them too much alfalfa could lead to issues with thyroid function. Alfalfa can have contraindications with some medicines. It is high in vitamin K, for example, which can reduce the effectiveness of blood-thinning medications. Alfalfa should never be used as a protein replacement. Despite the fact that the herb is full of plant protein, it is not a substitute for meat-based nutrition.
It is also important to know where your alfalfa is coming from. Feeding your pet low-quality alfalfa that has been in bloom creates the risk that there may be seeds present. Alfalfa seeds have a toxic amino acid which can cause allergic reactions in dogs. Feeding fresh alfalfa carries the risk that bacteria is present in the sprouts.
Alfalfa supplements are best as a powder sprinkled over your dog’s food every day. You should always check with your veterinarian before you give your dog any supplements. It is important to decide what herbs are appropriate and what dosage they should be given in. Herbs are still medications and overdoses can seriously harm your pet. You should also consult your vet first if you are trying to treat any illness. Underlying conditions may be present and can be life-threatening. A physical exam can determine if your pet has any conditions that need to be treated or monitored by a vet.
With a Little Caution, Alfalfa Can Be a Beneficial Part of Your Dog’s Daily Regimen
It is easy to think that using an herb such as alfalfa can’t hurt. In most cases, used properly, this is true, but it is important to remember that herbs are medicine and they can have unintended effects. If you want to offer the benefits of alfalfa to your dog, check with your vet first to ensure your pet is healthy and a good candidate for using this herb. Once you have the green light, supplementing alfalfa is easy, affordable, and can be one more step to helping your beloved pet stay healthy and active.